Oct 15, 2013

[Books] Tanequil (High Druid of Shannara Book 2)

So I'm still in the process of catching up with a lot of the Shannara novels that had been released over the years. I continue to maintain this odd loyalty to the franchise, especially after Terry Brooks decided to merge this story universe with his Word & Void series of novels. It has certainly made for a more interesting fantasy world.

This series, the High Druid of Shannara is an interesting return to the realm with a lot of old concepts being revived in new ways. And this goes beyond mere repetition of past events (like what we saw in Scions of Shannara) but actually a few new ideas that are keeping things interesting. Yay for continued life in an on-going book series.

Although while I'm enjoying things, it's not quite like that I'm totally in love with the series just yet. There are a lot of things about the story so far that are interesting but also a good number of items that seem like they could have used more thought. I'm still a little on the fence about a lot of the story elements at work for now but then I do want to give the series a good run before I come to a more final decision.

Synopsis: Tanequil is the second novel in Terry Brooks' High Druid of Shannara trilogy. It immediately follows the events in Jarka Ruus as our little crew try to find their way to the mythical Tanequil to rescue Grianne Ohmsford, former head of the Druids..

The party of Pen, Khyber and Tagwen manage to rescue Cinnaminson from the dreaded Aphasia Wye and continue on north in the hopes of finding Kermadec of the trolls. Kermadec had been extremely loyal to the former Ard Rhys and he seemed their best chance of navigating the mountains and locating the Tanequil tree that was somehow the key to rescuing Grianne. At the same time, Pen's parents Bek and Rue are finally located by the Druids and are brought back to Paranor under the guise of helping them locate Pen in order to save him from some undefined threat.

Meanwhile Shadea a'Ru, the woman behind the grand plot against Grianne, continues to gather more and more power to herself in order to cement her control over the Druid Council. But she is becoming increasingly frustrated with the repeated failures by her people in their efforts to capture Pen Ohmsford. At the same time, Sen Dunsidan, leader of the Federation, has gained access to a deadly new weapon which may change the direction of the on-going war between the Federation and the Free-Born. And Dunsidan also has a new ally - the Druid Iridea Eleri who is actually a deadly shapeshifter from the Forbidding.

The best thing that this series has going for it is how our protagonist, Pen, has a very subtle magic that seems almost useless plus the fact that we also get to see what happens in the magical Elven prison known as the Forbidding. These two concepts certainly help define a lot of the narrative, especially given how Pen is practically human in terms of his capabilities and yet not at the same time. This gives us a heck of a lot more reason to root for him and hope that he survives.

And the fact that the Forbidding is just an overlay or an alternate dimension that is very similar to the Four Lands. It gives Grianne a bit of false security initially - something that she has to pay for sooner rather than later. I am most curious as to how she'l survive a realm that is essentially filled with demons. Just try not to think too much about how they depict the Forbidding here and back in The Elfstones of Shannara. Back then it was like this shapeless, lightless void that had the demons packed up tightly against one another. Now it's a whole community with different races and even factions. But I think I like this version more than the others.

The big plan set in motion by the demons, however, feels a lot too much like the original plan back in the day. Again we have a shapeshifter trying to manipulate events in the Four Lands in order to establish the conditions needed to potentially break the Forbidding again or something to that effect.

Brooks is also rather obsessed with trees - something we've seen with the Elcrys that holds the Forbidding in place, the Tanequil that Pen and his colleagues now search for, and of course the stuff we've seen in Running with the Demon, from the Word & Void series. This is not a bad thing in itself, but it's certainly an interesting image to keep going back to. And yes, as based on the title it's obvious that they will find the Tanequil in this book and try to get what they need to save Grianne.

I am rather disappointed with how the Elves continue to be depicted as, well, jerks. We have seen this across most books in this franchise and I think it's a reputation that Brooks can move past by now. It's starting to become a rather annoying trope - let's stand up for Elf rights!

The book ends on a somewhat predictable note, but then Shannara has always been about big sacrifices. And if you take a step back and consider everything carefully, then you'll see just how obvious this plot twist was going to be. At the end of the day, children make for rather silly heroes. 

Tanequil is the dark middle section of any trilogy but there's still a lot of reason to hope for things to get better. The good guys have to win, but it's really a question of how much they'll need to sacrifice in order to get the ending that they need. Thus the book gets 3.5 snarky sentient trees out of a possible 5.

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